Friday, December 9, 2011

A Christmas Carol, A Montgomery Playhouse Production

In the month of December one certainly doesn't lack opportunity to see Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.    There are numerous film versions, play adaptations, musicals, versions that update the time period, and parodies.  There is something for everyone.    Yet, if you wish to experience A Christmas Carol as Charles Dickens' intended you could do not better than to travel to The Arts Barn in Gaithersburg, Maryland to witness a small company of actors perform this faithful tale of Christmas redemption.

The Arts Barn is a tiny space tucked in the midst of a residential development located near the historic Kentlands Mansion.   While the physical theater is small and the trappings of lights, sets and special effects is sparse, this brilliant theatrical adaptation by local playwright Timothy Shaw is noteworthy for one simple fact.   Mr. Shaw lets Mr. Dickens own words weave the tale.   For this is storytelling at its best.   Sit back, relax and let this talented small acting troupe carry you in your imagination to 19th century London and learn the lessons of charity, love and grace that Charles Dickens wished his original readers to learn from the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Director John Dickson Wakefield and his assistant director, Cecilia M. Rogers have coaxed rich performances from the acting ensemble, most of whom must portray several disparate roles.    The young siblings of the Tobin family gamely assay all of the young children's roles.  Matthew Tobin is a creepy presence as Christmas Future and charming as Dick Wilkins.  Danny Tobin is earnest as Peter Cratchit, poignant as the boy Scrooge and witty as the Goose Boy.  Liam Tobin is heartbreaking as Tiny Tim and scary as Ignorance.   Their sister, Maggie Tobin is adorable as Fan Scrooge and Belinda Cratchit and once again, scary as Want.

As the Cratchit mother Mary S. Wakefield will bring you laughter and tears.  She also is hilarious as the bold and brassy Charwoman.   Steven Kirkpatrick is the embodiment of noble humanity as Bob Cratchit.  Tears will be brought to your eyes as he poignantly recites the details of a significant death in the story.

Taylor Payne is a beautiful young ingenue who shows great acting promise.   She is loving as Scrooge's fiancee, Belle and full of regret as she breaks their engagement.   She is also quite charming as Martha Cratchit and the put-upon maid for nephew Fred.

J. Peter Langsdorf is charming and light-hearted as Scrooge's ever forgiving nephew, Fred.  He is well matched by Nicolette Stearns who plays his wife as well as the complex Ghost of Christmas Past.   Ms. Stearns shows great range as she is sympathetic and scolding as Scrooge's past unfolds.

Fred Nelson brings a regal grace to the Ghost of Christmas Present.   His whirlwind tour around the world with Scrooge in tow is a highlight of the production.   Mr. Nelson's jovial presence is tempered by his spot-on grave emotions as Christmas Present relates the grim realities of the sadder side of the season, represented by Ignorance and Want who travel with him to remind the world of the poor and the destitute suffering during the holiday season.  

On a lighter note, Mr. Nelson could form a comedy act with John Sadowsky as the two gentlemen who seek charity donations from Mr. Scrooge.    More seriously, Mr. Sadowsky provides deep pathos in the role of Jacob Marley.   Frequently, this role is simply performed for scary ghostly effect.    While Mr. Sadowsky is not the most frightening of ghosts, his Jacob Marley clearly mourns the choices that he made in life.   One gets the sense that he genuinely cares for his former partner and wishes to save him from sharing his terrible ghostly fate.

Arden Moscati takes the small role of Young Scrooge and helps you see the transition from eager young apprentice and ardent lover of Belle to the cold, heartless businessman that the elder Scrooge becomes.   He clearly is a younger version of our protagonist.

Glenn Evans is Ebenezer Scrooge.    His performance is so nuanced that his Scrooge truly is a real human being with real human failings in his life.    Mr. Evans is marvelous in his interactions with both the cast and the audience.  His gradual transformation from bitter, unfeeling miser to repentant humanitarian is a revelation.

In this adaptation you will see all of the shadows that Charles Dickens ghosts reveal to Ebenezer Scrooge without embellishment.   You will witness scenes from the story with which you may not be familiar.   You will also see all of the familiar vignettes that you may remember from the classic story you have grown to love.   At a family friendly price and visions of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future that are not too frightening, this is the perfect holiday treat to introduce the story to your children.

The Arts Barn Theatre Series presents A Montgomery Playhouse Production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted for the stage by Timothy Shaw through December 18, 2011.   For performance information please visit   For tickets, please call the box office directly at 301-258-6394.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book Review: Mary Boleyn (pick your subtitle) by Alison Weir

Mary Boleyn has been thrust out of her role in history as the footnote to her more famous sister Queen Anne Boleyn's life.   Thanks to Philippa Gregory's popular novel, The Other Boleyn Girl and its subsequent two films, the more well-known of which starred Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn, the little known story of this Boleyn sister has become popular, albeit in a fictional way.   For the truth is that we don't know very much about Mary Boleyn, just as the historical record is scant for most women of the 16th century, even those attached to the prominent families at the court of Henry VIII.    So, there has been much embellishment of Mary's story most of which has focused on her reputation as, how to make this family friendly, easy with her sexual favors.  

Alison Weir attempts to set the record straight in her new biography.   She is not the first historian to tackle Mary Boleyn as a subject matter.   As she points out in her book, Alison Weir is indebted to the previous work by Dr. Josephine Wilkinson who published Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII's Favorite Mistress in 2009.   However, as Ms. Weir points out, Dr. Wilkinson was given a page limitation by Amberley Press and was thus forced to edit down her research.   Not so, Ms. Weir.   And therein lies the problem with this well-researched book.   It is too well-researched.

There is very little in the historic record about Mary Boleyn's life.   We do not know when she was born or what the birth order was of the Boleyn siblings.   We do know that there were three children who survived childhood, Mary, Anne and George.  Ms. Weir also claims that there was a fourth Boleyn child, Thomas who lived until 1520.  Other historians dispute her findings on that and believe that Thomas, along with any other Boleyn children died young. (Thomas Boleyn, the father's famous she brought me forth every year a child comment)

We know that Mary Boleyn was one of the maids of honor who accompanied Princess Mary Tudor to her wedding in France and was one of the few English ladies not dismissed by King Louis XII as recent research has produced a previously unknown list of the women paid for their service to Queen Mary for the last three months of 1514.

We do not know when Mary Boleyn returned to England.    We do know that she was married to William Carey, a gentleman of King Henry VIII's privy chamber in February 1520 and that she attended Queen Katherine of Aragon at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June of that year.    In March 1522 she was one of the eight ladies featured in a masque who defended the Chateau Vert dancing the role of Kindness.   She bore two children, a daughter Katherine, whom recent scholarship has proven was the eldest child, born around 1523/1524 and a son, Henry born in 1525/1526.   Her husband William Carey died in the sweating sickness epidemic of 1528.

Mary Boleyn is not in the historic record very much during the rise of her sister, Anne Boleyn, who made her first recorded appearance at the English court in that same Chateau Vert masque, portraying Perseverance.   During King Henry's annulment proceedings against Queen Katherine of Aragon we glimpse the only evidence that Mary Boleyn had a sexual relationship with the King.   King Henry VIII was granted a Papal dispensation in 1528 granting him permission to marry a woman to whom he was related to within the first degree of affinity.  What that means is that he had sex with a close female relative.    Later in the proceedings the King was recorded replying when asked if the rumors were true that he had sex with both Mary and her mother, Elizabeth Boleyn, the King replied "never with the mother."    Yet  except that single document and one statement from the King absolutely everything else known about Mary Boleyn's relationship with King Henry VIII is conjecture.

Ms. Weir is tireless in her examination of every single reference to Mary Boleyn by previous historians and historical fiction writers.    The book contains every single reference to Mary Boleyn which Ms. Weir either confirms or refutes.    Enough is enough.   The points that Ms. Weir are making are amply made without quoting every single one of them.    We do not need several pages discussing the birth order of the Boleyn siblings.   We do not need page after page refuting Mary's sexual reputation.    Judicious editing could make this book a much less mind-numbing read.

For the record, Ms. Weir does believe that Mary Boleyn was the mistress of Francois I of France, but only briefly.  There is absolutely nothing in the historical record of the time that makes mention of it.   She also believes that Mary Boleyn's affair with King Henry VIII was short and relatively insignificant.   She makes a good argument for believing that if either of Mary Boleyn's children were the children of Henry VIII it was the elder one, Katherine, as King Henry made grants to Mary Boleyn and Katherine Carey following the death of William Carey that could be identified as means for financially taking care of his bastard daughter.   Ms. Weir also cites royal references in Sir Philip Sydney's poetry written to honor Katherine Carey's daughter Penelope as possible evidence that Katherine Carey was Henry VIII's daughter.  Yet, it is still speculation unless one can find a way to do DNA testing on Henry VIII and Katherine Carey it can never be proven.

Ms. Weir does a good job of showing that what other writers have used to prove that Mary Boleyn was King Henry VIII's mistress from 1522-1526, mainly the grants of offices and lands to her husband William Carey, is false.   William Carey received nothing out of the ordinary for a man of his position at court.    Ms. Weir also shows that the elevation of Mary Boleyn's father to the title of Viscount Rochford in 1525 had to do with his ability as a skilled ambassador for the English court and not because his daughter was sleeping with the King.    Ms. Weir also debunks the significance of the ship the Mary Boleyn in the English fleet.   The ship, along with the ship the Anne Boleyn, were purchased with those names from Mary's father, Thomas Boleyn.

The truly fascinating research that Alison Weir has found is in examining Mary Boleyn's life after the death of her husband in 1528.   She shows convincing evidence that Mary Boleyn was not close to her family.  Ms. Weir believes that, contrary to popular fiction, Mary's family was not pleased that she was a royal mistress.  Following William Carey's death she had to have the King intervene with her father to provide her with financial support.  Thomas Boleyn would treat his daughter-in-law, Jane Parker the same way after the execution of his son, George.  Mary Boleyn is rarely recorded at court after 1522.   She is mentioned as accompanying the English court to Calais in 1532 and as a member of Anne Boleyn's household after she is proclaimed queen at Easter in 1533.  She participated in Anne's coronation.

The final blow to her relationship with her family came when Mary Boleyn secretly wed William Stafford in 1534.   Ms. Weir notes that Stafford was a minor courtier, the younger son of a knight who served as a Gentleman Usher to the king.   In the summer of 1533 he became a spearman to the Calais garrison serving under the governor of Calais, Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle.   He is referred to several times in the Lisle letters as a trusted messenger to and from the court.   Mary Boleyn's marriage was discovered in the fall of 1534 when she became visibly pregnant.     One of her two extant letters is from this period in which she wrote to Thomas Cromwell begging his assistance.   It is this letter in which Mary states "I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen christened."   Ms. Weir clearly believes that this statement proves how much the sisters were estranged.    While some historians believe that Mary Boleyn was reconciled with Queen Anne, assisting her after her miscarriage of 1536, Ms. Weir points out that there is no record of Mary Boleyn being at court after 1534.    She would live in obscurity surviving the executions of her sister, her brother, the deaths of her parents and the execution of her sister-in-law Jane Parker in the downfall of Queen Katherine Howard.    Mary Boleyn would die in 1543 and the place of her burial is unknown.

Ms. Weir's scholarship is very sound, if too detailed.   She does rightfully dismiss a lot of the romantic mythology surrounding Mary Boleyn, yet uses some of that same dubious material whether it is the mostly inaccurate statements of Rodolfo Pio, the papal nuncio or the poetry of Sir Philip Sydney when it serves the point she is trying to make.   It is not an easy read, but it is well worth adding to one's library if the reader is interested in expanding their knowledge of Tudor court history.

Alison's Weir's Mary Boleyn biography was published in 2011.  In Great Britain it is known as Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore, published by Jonathan Cape.   In the United States it is known as Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings, published by Ballantine Books.

Book Review: Sister Queens by Julia Fox

The family of Katherine of Aragon is one that has not had nearly enough attention drawn to it in English language biography.   In the past few years there has been a welcome reexamination of Katherine of Aragon who did not have a major scholarly biography since the 1940's era one by Garrett Mattingly.   This was changed by the 2010 biography by Giles Tremlett which took advantage of reexamining the Spanish archival sources to provide a more detailed background for Katherine's life based on her Spanish heritage as the youngest daughter of the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabel.  

Now, comes Julia Fox's newest biography, a joint biography of Katherine of Aragon and her sister, Juana, Queen of Castile.    This is a welcome development as the life of Juana has been reduced to the stereotype of Juana La Loca, stricken by grief over the death of her husband, Philip of Burgundy, dragging his corpse from place to place as she could not bear parting with him.    Fortunately for readers, Ms. Fox provides context for Juana's life and mental behavior.    She sifts through the reams of propaganda that was used to justify Juana's life-long imprisonment to show that Juana was quite probably a victim of her father and her sons who sought to maintain control over Juana's rightful inheritance as the queen regnant of Castile.

In many ways, one wishes it was a solo biography of Juana as it is Ms. Fox's material on Juana that is the more fascinating read.   It is not that her scholarship on Katherine of Aragon isn't sound or engaging. Katherine's early history growing up amidst the reunification of Spain and the expulsion of the Moors and the Jews has been covered much more extensively by the aforementioned Mr. Tremlett's biography.    However, for a reader not who has not read extensively other biographies of Katherine of Aragon, Ms. Fox's book is a perfectly good place to begin.

One feels that the reason this book is not a solo biography of Juana of Castile is simply that there is not enough extant original documentation of Juana's life.   This may seem surprising as Juana was the wife of Philip of Burgundy, the heir of her mother, Isabel of Castile, and the mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.   Juana was also the longest surviving child of Ferdinand and Isabel dying in 1557.    Yet, due to her long forced incarceration following the death of her husband, there is scant reference in the historical record to Juana's later life.   Yet,  Ms. Fox uncovers material that shows that Juana La Loca was not nearly as mad as history as dictated.    It is a sad story that readers should be grateful that Ms. Fox has peeled back a few layers from and provided welcome insight.

For those unfamiliar with the family history of Katherine and Juana, their parents were Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile.   Isabel, while fighting to claim the throne of Castile married Ferdinand without her half-brother's approval and gained a valuable dynastic ally.    They had five surviving children, Isabel, Juan, Juana, Maria and Katherine.     Each of those children would make strategic dynastic marriages and in some of those marriages we see reasons for some of the future choices that both Katherine and Juana would make.

As an example, for readers of Tudor history it is well known that Katherine of Aragon was first married to Arthur, Prince of Wales.   Following his death, Katherine was betrothed to his younger brother, Henry who decades later would decide that his decision to marry his brother's wife contradicted the laws of God.   For Katherine, she had seen several examples of this in her own family.   Her sister Isabel married Afonso Prince of Portugal in 1490.    He died in 1491 and Isabel was, according to the historical record, hysterically grief-stricken swearing she would enter a convent rather than re-marry.   Clearly, her profound grief can be seen in her sister Juana's later reaction to Philip of Burgundy's death.    Isabel married again, to Manual I of Portugal in 1497. This preserved the Spanish/Portuguese alliance.  Isabel died in childbirth in 1498.  Her son would die in 1500.

Manual I of Portugal then married his wife's sister, Maria, again preserving the Portuguese alliance.   So, Katherine of Aragon had the example of her two sisters remarrying close relations for dynastic reasons.   Meanwhile a double alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I was proposed in 1495.   The sole male heir of Ferdinand and Isabel, Juan would marry the Emperor's daughter, Margaret of Austria and his sister, Juana would marry the Emperor's son, Philip of Burgundy.    These marriages took place and Juana traveled to live in Burgundy.    Only months after his marriage, Juan died.  Margaret who was pregnant gave birth to a stillborn girl.   With the deaths of her brother and her elder sister and her nephew,  that left Juana as the heir to the throne of Castile which permitted women to ascend the throne.

Philip and Juana visited Castile in 1502 in order for Juana to receive fealty from the Cortes of Castile as the recognized Princess of Asturias, heiress of the Castilian throne.   Juana stayed in Spain giving birth to the last of her six surviving children, Ferdinand.  Ferdinand would be left in Castile to be raised there.  It is here that the campaign to control Juana and Castile began between her father, Ferdinand, her husband Philip and later her sons, Charles and Ferdinand.

Isabel of Castile died in 1504.    With the heiress Juana, living in Burgundy, her father Ferdinand acted as regent for his daughter's kingdom.     He was guided in this by Isabel's will which permitted Ferdinand to govern in Juana's absence or, if Juana was unwilling or incapable of ruling, in the name of her heir unit that heir reached the age of twenty.   Ferdinand had coins minted in the name of Ferdinand and Juana, King and Queen of Castile.  Philip of Burgundy had coins minted in the name of Philip and Juana, King and Queen of Castile.   Ferdinand heightened the tension by marrying Germaine de Foix, the niece of King Louis XII of France.

Philip and Juana set sail for Spain in January 1506.   Along the way, storms in the English channel blew their ships ashore in England.   This led to the last meeting of the two sisters as Philip and Juana were feted at the court of Henry VII.   Or, more accurately, Philip was feted.  Juana and Katherine only met for a few days before Philip sent Juana back to the coast to wait for them to set sail.   After three months they finally arrived in Spain.   Ferdinand and Philip signed a treaty stating that Juana was mentally unstable and incapable of ruling.   Ferdinand double-crossed Philip by denouncing that treaty.    Philip and Juana were declared King and Queen of Castile and their eldest son, Charles, heir apparent to the throne.  Yet, Philip continued to try to have the Castilian Cortes agree to Juana's imprisonment as being mentally unstable so that he could rule in her name.  They refused to do so without physically seeing Juana for themselves.

Then tragedy struck as Philip died in September 1506.    There is speculation to this day over the timing of the death, but it was most likely an infection that in the days before antibiotics could easily become life threatening.   With Philip dead and her father in Italy at the time, Juana could prove she was capable of ruling on her own. And thus, Juana discovered another enemy, Cisneros, the Archbishop of Toledo who tried to have a regency council established when it was clear that Philip was going to die.  Juana however, did nothing.   Her marriage to Philip had been tempestuous.  With his death, she showed signs of the same deep levels of grief that her sister, Isabel had done.  She would not sign documents.  She refused to  see anyone and this was the beginning of Juana's end as an independent woman.   What sealed her reputation to history was her decision to order that Philip was to be buried in the royal vault in Granada.  This would symbolize Philip's place in Spanish royal history.   Juana was eight months pregnant and had to stop accompanying the body in order to give birth to her last child, Catalina (Catherine).   And it is here that Ms. Fox finds the propaganda that Juana was so grief stricken that she couldn't bear to allow Philip to be buried and that she opened his coffin to kiss and embrace him.    As Ms. Fox states, are the allegations true or was Juana simply dictating where the father of her children should be buried?

Ms. Fox points out, Pedro Martir, the chronicler who traveled with Juana makes no mention of coffin-opening and Ms. Fox notes that Martir was not a partisan of the Queen.     Yet, because of her grief, and the history of hysterical grief noted in her sister, Isabel, it is not surprising that first Ferdinand and then her son, Charles would use this as a way to control Juana and Castile.    Juana would end up Queen of Castile in name only, confined in the Santa Clara convent in Tordesillas.  

Ferdinand died in 1516.   For several years no one told Juana of his death.   The regency of Castile passed to her eldest son, Charles who now, as Ferdinand's heir in Aragon,  reunited the thrones of Spain.    Yet, there was one other incident in Juana's life that is rarely mentioned.   In 1520 rebellion broke out in Castile over the foreign-born and raised Charles' rule.  The rebels gained access to Juana and asked her to give her written consent to the rebellion.   Juana refused to do so.    Juana would remain confined until her death, her conditions and her health deteriorating over time.    She would be buried in the royal vault in Granada alongside her husband, Philip.

Meanwhile, in England Juana's sister, Katherine had a similarly tempetuous life.    She would spend eight years as the widow of Arthur, Prince of Wales largely over her father and father-in-law's battles over the payment of her dowry.   Married to Henry VIII in 1509 she would see her father betray her husband's trust in the French invasion of 1513.  This would lead to the breaking of the marriage contract between Henry's sister Mary and Katherine's nephew Charles.    After numerous pregnancies, Katherine would produce one living child, a girl, the future Queen Mary I.   Katherine would fight a six year battle to save her marriage only to be discarded completely in 1531 and have her marriage annulled when Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic church and declared himself the head of the Church of England.   Moved to more and more obscure locations Katherine would die in January 1536 at Kimbolton Castle.   Buried in Peterborough Abbey, now a cathedral, her grave is regularly honored on the anniversary of her death.

Julia Fox provides a welcome look into the life of Juana, Queen of Castile.   In tandem with her other subject, Queen Katherine of Aragon she provides a well written biography of these two queenly sisters.

Sister Queens: Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile was published in Great Britain in 2011 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Equivocation, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at Arena Stage

"Knock, knock!  Who's there, in th' other devil's name? Faith, here's an equivocator, that could swear in both scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.  O, come in, equivocator." ---the Porter, MacBeth, Act II, Scene 3.

equivocation = the use of ambiguous statements to mislead or evade.

Remember, remember the 5th of November....this date in England is commemorated to this day commemorating the events of the Gunpowder Plot in which the hapless Guy (or Guido) Fawkes was discovered in a cellar underneath Parliament ready to blow the King, his court and Parliament to smithereens.    This event helped the English government to solidify the vilification the Catholic faith and through the events of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 would eventually lead a century later to the 1701 Act of Succession barring Catholics from the throne.

What is not as well known is that William Shakespeare wrote references to the Gunpowder Plot into The Tragedy of MacBeth, his only play set in Scotland which contains elements meant to flatter King James VI and I.   The King wrote a book on the detection of witches, Daemonology, hence the prominent inclusion of the supernatural in the play.  The King also had a love of pageantry and the plays which Shakespeare wrote during James' reign including elaborate spectacle in the form of masques.    In MacBeth the King's lineage is paraded in the famous "double, double, toil and trouble" scene as the kingly descendants of Banquo, a long line ending in King James himself are conjured from the witches magic spell.

Historically we do not know what inspired Shakespeare to write his plays.  This  has led to fanciful fictional representation, most famously in the Academy Award winning film, Shakespeare in Love.   Playwright Bill Cain has taken the events of the Gunpowder Plot and fashioned from its conspiracy and bloody endings the creation of MacBeth.     The result is a highly literate evening of theater that presumes that the audience is intelligent to follow its very intricate twists and turns.    While, as in most fictional adaptations of history, parts of the history is ignored or condensed for dramatic purposes, Equivocation is, for the most part an engaging evening of theater.   Where the play is faulty is in its length, clocking in at just over three hours in length.    Some judicious editing would tighten the work and make fewer audiences members check their watches as the evening drags to its conclusion.

The play imagines that William Shakespeare, here called Shag, is commissioned by Robert Cecil, the hunchbacked Secretary of State who smoothed the transition to the throne between the childless Elizabeth I and the Scottish King James, to write a true history of the Gunpowder Plot.    Instead of relying on historical events and chronicles as source material, Shag will write a true history of this threat to England using as his text an account written by the King himself.   Shag must also deal with the members of his acting troupe who are alternately thrilled by the challenges of the play-in-progress and concerned that if the ending result displeases the government officials the company of actors may find themselves accused of treason.   Lastly, Shag is haunted by the loss in his own life and cannot deal with his daughter, Judith who toils as a laundress for the actors and tries to forge a relationship with her emotionally distant father.

It is a lot of material to cover in three hours and that is part of the problem with this play.   While the acting is uniformly superb, elements of the story are alternately too detailed to the point of audience boredom or, in the case of the Judith subplot, not detailed enough.    As Judith, Christine Albright is the silent support for the entire company.   Judith is given a few soliloquies in which she comments on the action, giving insight to her father's plight.   Ms. Albright is particularly poignant in a graveyard scene, yet Judith's entire story could be excised from the play without damaging the rest of the plot.

The rest of the ensemble portrays multiple roles.  Richard Elmore, Jonathan Haugen, Gregory Linington and John Tufts are identified in the program solely by their acting company names.   Yet, each man also portrays several meaty roles whether it is the Catholic conspirators, including Mr. Elmore's Father Henry Garnet, the equivocator of history and the piece, or John Tufts gleeful and smarmy King James VI and I.   Jonathan Haugen is particularly memorable as Robert Cecil, the orchestrator of the crown, who is trying to shape the official history of the Gunpowder Plot.

Anthony Heald as Shag is the glue that holds this disparate work together.   He is at once the center of the piece and its true orchestrator.  Mr. Heald's performance cautious and bold, daring and timid.   He evokes Shag's desires to please his patrons, discover the truths of the conspiracy and the plot and somehow deal with the emotional hole in his own life represented by loss and his daughter.

Christopher Acebo's wooden set permits the easy evocation of the many locations of the play.   It is complimented by Christopher Akerlind's lighting design.  The costumes of Deborah H. Dryden are perfect, whether the costumes and utilitarian clothes of the acting company or the glittering ensembles worn by King James.  Director Bill Rauch has for the most part, mined this work for positive and engaging effect.   One wishes he would have reigned in some of the lengthy pauses that are indulged in by some of the actors.

Equivocation presented at Arena Stage by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will be presented in the Kreeger Theatre through January 1, 2012.   For tickets and other performance information please visit

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hamlet at the American Shakespeare Center

Hamlet is the most iconic play in the Shakespeare canon.   It is frequently produced.   This reviewer has seen several productions of Hamlet by different professional theater companies over the past two seasons alone.    How can one make a production of Hamlet stand out amongst the competition?   How about flipping a coin before each performance to decide in which order you will be performing pivotal scenes in the play?

This experiment is taking place on the Blackfriar's Playhouse stage in Staunton, Virginia.   As artistic director and director of the production, Jim Warren explains in his notes in the program, "my plan is to work up two versions of the show and perform the Q1 (first quarto) sequence on some nights and the F1/Q2 (first folio/second quarto) sequences on other nights."    How does this affect the course of the play?  Substantially.    Scholars and theater professionals have a plethora of choices to make when examining Hamlet.    The different extant texts have different line lengths ranging from the 2800-2900 of the first quarto to 3800 in the second quarto.   Most productions substantially cut the production to make it a more manageable length.  By excising certain scenes or characters it shapes the play.   Lose the political drama of the invasion of Denmark by Norway and you create a play that focuses solely on the rotten state of affairs in the accession to the throne by King Claudius and his o'er hasty marriage to his brother's widow, Queen Gertrude.   In the American Shakespeare Center's production, the Fortinbras secondary story is intact, yet, but examining the conflicting scene order the director and his company of actors is examining the urgency of Prince Hamlet's revenge plot.   For one version seems more logical than the other.  Yet, by presenting both versions, the audience has a chance to explore the dramatic possibilities to be discovered in this 400 year old play.

The evening attended by this reviewer the fate of the coin decided on the first quarto sequence.   That means that the to be or not to be soliloquy and the admonishment to Ophelia to "get thee to a nunnery" comes first, followed by Hamlet calling Polonius a fishmonger, the greeting of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and asking them if they were sent for or have come to visit on their own.   Then the players arrive and Hamlet asks them to perform the play The Murder of Gonzago.   Hamlet tells the audience that the players will perform a play like the murder of Hamlet's father and he will watch Claudius for a guilty reaction so that he can learn if the Ghost has told Hamlet the truth about his death.   Please see the end of the review for the alternative scene sequence.

No matter the sequence used on the performance you choose to attend, you are in for the usual briskly paced and well-acted production that is the hallmark of the American Shakespeare Center.   There are strong performances delivered by the entire cast, yet a few choices do not ring true.  Yet, despite its few shortcomings this is an excellent choice for a wonderful evening of theater.

Rene Thornton, Jr. is a strong and menacing Ghost.   Mr. Thornton gets to show his comedic side as the fop courtier Osric and as part of the very entertaining ensemble of players come to perform at the Danish court.  Alongside Chris Johnston, Gregory Jon Phelps and John Basiulis, Mr. Thornton provides welcome comic relief as the "actors" prepare to perform.   Yet, he brings clarity and pathos to the famed Hecuba speech that Prince Hamlet asks him to declaim.

One of the delights of this production is the family dynamic between Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia.   Benjamin Curns' Polonius is the comedic buffoon one expects, but he is also a loving father to Laertes and Ophelia.   Gregory Jon Phelps shows genuine love and concern that his sister not be hurt by Hamlet's profession of love.  It is welcome to see this family truly a functional family unit rather than some productions that make the characters abusive to Ophelia.  

The true abuse to Ophelia comes from Hamlet himself.    Miriam Donald shows bewilderment, compassion, terror and love towards Hamlet despite his very cruel behavior towards her.    Her mad scene is heartbreaking.   Here is a young woman unhinged by grief, who includes the audience in her pointed gifts of flowers and provides a devastating portrayal of a young woman destroyed by her love killing her father.

James Keegan's King Claudius is complex.   While he is a villain and his plotting to rid himself of Hamlet in the face of Hamlet's unnerving drive to see justice done for the Ghost's murder is ever present, the one moment that Claudius shows genuine remorse is the more believable as Mr. Keegan tries to gain atonement in prayer to no avail.

Unfortunately he is not matched in complexity by Blythe Coons' Queen Gertrude.   Partly this is the fault of the way the character is written.   Gertrude upon the page can be very passive, meekly staying loyal to Claudius until her inadvertent death at his hands.   Yet, if an actress makes some choices the character can take on emotional layers.  Yet, here there is nothing beyond bare amazement as Gertrude witnesses her son talking to what she believes to be an imaginary Ghost.   And while she shows adequate despair at the madness of Ophelia, there is no tinge of recognition of any guilt given the barbs that Ophelia addresses directly to Gertrude.

Patrick Midgley is a dynamic Horatio.   Frequently this role is simply Hamlet's sounding board and the witness to the events of the play.    Here, Mr. Midgley creates a true friend, who grows from skeptic about  the events the Ghost has related to Hamlet to genuine enthusiast for Hamlet's revenge plans once he witnesses Claudius' reaction to the players' Murder of Gonzalo.     His grief at the carnage at the end of the play and the death of his best friend is heartfelt.

Hamlet the play is successful based on the actor who assays the title role.   John Harrell amply succeeds.   His Hamlet is dour and bitter at the beginning of the play and genuinely eager for one last moment with the father he so loved when the Ghost beckons to him.     Mr. Harrell shows us a Hamlet who gradually becomes unhinged by the knowledge the Ghost gives him about his murder, so that when Hamlet appears disheveled as Ophelia describes him to be, it is clear to the audience that despite his declaration to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he is "but mad north-northwest." he is unnerved by the events of the play.    Yet, Mr. Harrell provides a steely nerve towards the revenge he is bound and determined to exact on his murderous uncle.    It is a complex performance that is mesmerizing, uncomfortable to watch at times, yet a triumphant feat of masterful skill.

This is a memorable Hamlet.   Make the journey to the Blackfriar's to enjoy its final few performances.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare will be performed in repertory with The Tempest, Henry V, Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest through November 26, 2011.   For tickets and other performance information, please visit

The first folio/second quarto scene sequence is as follows.   Hamlet calls Polonius a fishmonger then greets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and asks if they were sent for or are visiting on their own.  The players arrive and Hamlet requests they perform The Murder of Gonzago.   Hamlet tells the audience the players will perform a play like the murder of his father and will watch Claudius's reaction to learn if the Ghost tells the truth.  Polonius positions Ophelia where Hamlet will see her while Polonius and Claudius eavesdrop.   Hamlet questions to be or not to be and tells Ophelia to get thee to a nunnery.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Henry V at the American Shakespeare Center

William Shakespeare's Henry V is a rousing patriotic celebration of the titular warrior king.   It is a account of the pivotal invasion of France and the devastating English victory at the battle of Agincourt during 1415 in which the massive use of the English long bow defeated the larger French army led by the more traditional knights on horseback.    Agincourt ushered in a change in military tactics.   It also ushered in the second phase of the Hundred Years War in France.    And, in the hands of a lesser theater company, the play itself can be a dull, pageant heavy recitation of a highlight reel as the last of the three plays that Shakespeare composed that feature the life of this English national hero.

Fortunate is the audience member who then makes the journey to the Shenandoah Valley to view this masterful production of Henry V.    This version, dynamically directed by Ralph Alan Cohen, weaves a thrilling tale upon the Blackfriar's Playhouse stage.    First and foremost, John Harrell is a natural storyteller as the Chorus.   Narrating the action with the thrill of the old "You Are There" broadcasts he brings genuine wonder to the story he weaves for the audience.   Without his performance setting the tone for the evening, much of the delight would be merely a travelogue recitation (now we are in London, now we are in Southhampton, etc.).  

Being a history play, there are dozens of characters in the play.   Keeping them straight is made easier by the costumes of Jenny McNee, who crafts a color palate and a clear delineation of nationality and status with her 15th century designs.    Yet, it is the sure hand of director Ralph Alan Cohen, who has shaped his ensemble in such a way that personalities flourish.   Everyone is clearly defined as individuals within the various groups whether they be the noble relatives of King Henry V, the sneering disdainful entourage of the French Dauphin or the merry Captains that surround the Welsh Captain Fluellen.

Henry V, the play, acknowledges its past as a sequel to the Henry IV plays in which the youthful Prince Hal carouses with Sir John Falstaff and the merry band from the Boar's Head Tavern, Mistress Quickly, Bardolph, Nym, Pistol and the put-upon Boy.   Within those previous plays, Prince Hal matures first by defeating Hotspur in the climax of Henry IV, Part 1 and then assuming the burdens of the crown and banishing his former mentor and companion, Falstaff.    Here, Shakespeare gives us a proper coda to these memorable characters.   Falstaff dies, off stage, and his death is related with deep poignancy by the eloquent Allison Glenzer's Mistress Quickly.   Bardolph, Nym, Pistol and the Boy join King Henry V's army and travel to France where Bardolph (Chris Johnston)  and Nym (Zachary Brown) are executed for thievery and the Boy (Miriam Donald) perishes when the French attack and kill the young boys who are guarding the English army's baggage train.

It is left to Benjamin Curns' Pistol to carry on in all of his pomposity the vestiges of the merriment from the earlier plays.   Yet, even Pistol, is granted his moments of humanity as he learns that his beloved Mistress Quickly, now his wife, has perished while he has been in France.   Yet, pity not dear Pistol for he meets his comedic match in James Keegan's Captain Fluellen.   Mr. Keegan creates a dynamic patriot out of this proud Welshman and watching him take Pistol down a few notches in a duel that involves the force feeding of leeks is a delight.

Another comedic highlight comes from the brief scene that Captain Fluellen has with Patrick Midgley's Irish Captain MacMorris and Rene Thornton, Jr.'s Scottish Captain Jamy.   To describe the scene in detail would rob the audience of discovering the hilarity on its own.

Switching to the more serious side of the story, that of the conflict between England and France, Mr. Midgley makes a deeper impact in his main role in the play, that of the preening, hot headed Dauphin, the heir to the French throne whose position King Henry V seeks to usurp.   Surrounded by the dripping with distain entourage of Daniel Burrows Constable amongst other French lords, Mr. Midgley creates a young man burning to utterly destroy the English King.   He is mesmerizing.

As the French Princess Katherine, Miriam Donald is a sweet oasis in the midst of war.  Along with Allison Glenzer's Alice, the princess' attendant, we see a young woman sheltered from the seriousness of the war, yet enamored of the possibility that her nation's greatest enemy may be her future husband and love.   The comedic scene in which the princess gets an English lesson is delivered almost entirely in French, yet the scene is accessible and conveys warmth.

Gregory Jon Phelps is a conquering force upon the Blackfriar's Stage.  He is an aristocratic warrior who commands the respect of everyone in every scene.   Yet, Mr. Phelps embraces the moments in the play where Shakespeare allows moments of vulnerability to chip through his kingly armor.   Most famously is during the eve of battle scene where King Henry walks amongst his troops learning what his army is feeling the night before they face overwhelming odds of success.   Mr. Phelps is earnest in conveying his emotions and a highlight is when, King Henry, upon his knees, begs God for acceptance of his atonement for his father's sin of usurping King Richard II.    Yet, the brilliance of Mr. Phelps' performance comes in a fleeting moment.   Pistol comes to the King to beg for Bardolph's life after Bardolph has been caught stealing from a church.   As Pistol relates King Henry's connection to his princely carousing days, Mr. Phelps allows the briefest moment of nostalgia to wax over his expression.   It lasts mere seconds before he resumes his mantle of King sentencing his former companion to death, yet it is in that brief moment that Mr. Phelps' King Henry V becomes a true fully rounded human being.

This dynamic production is worth the journey to the Shenandoah Valley.   Be one of the many to join these few, these happy few who bring such craft to the Blackfriar's Playhouse stage.

William Shakespeare's Henry V will be performed at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia in repertoire with Hamlet, The Tempest, Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest through November 25, 2011.  For tickets and other performance information please visit

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Othello at the Folger Theatre

He hates the Moor.

He really hates the Moor.

The character of Iago in William Shakespeare's Othello is one of the most captivating villains ever put on the stage.  He is very clear about his seething rage, angry that he has been overlooked for a military promotion and suspicious that his general has committed adultery with his wife, Emilia.   Washington, DC audiences have the opportunity to view a consummate Iago, in the expert performance by Ian Merill Peakes now on the stage at the Folger Theatre.

Director Robert Richmond has reordered Iago's admission of hatred from Act I, scene 3 to the very beginning of the play.  Therefore the revenge plot is in the forefront from the very beginning.  Yet, the play is titled Othello, not Iago, and Mr. Richmond has found in Owiso Odera an equally forceful performance as the charismatic general, whose jealousy is stoked by his loving not too wisely, but too well.

Mr. Odera is a commanding presence, handsome, strength personified when breaking apart a drunken brawl, yet deeply romantic with his beloved wife, Desdemona.  Mr. Odera navigates with a clarity sometimes lacking in other performances of this character the sometimes baffling transition from trusting husband to that of an anguished man, broken in spirit by the belief that his young wife is unfaithful.  This Othello is heartbreaking, and while he maintains sympathy he is also horrifying in his insistence that his innocent wife must die.

Janie Brookshire is a beautiful and sensual Desdemona.   Her bafflement at her husband's change in affections is poignant.  Her delivery of the famous Willow Song is more wistful than melancholic, a tinge of hope colors her  performance even in the face of impending doom.  Ms. Brookshire's death throes are also terrifying and brutal.

As the manipulated wife of Iago, Karen Peakes compels the audience to fully believe that Emilia loves Iago.  This is crucial for the audience to understand how Emilia can steal Desdemona's handkerchief and in subsequent scenes with her frantic mistress not reveal that she is responsible for its disappearance. Ms. Peake's slow burning revelation that her husband is responsible for the death of her young mistress is that of any woman who discovers the man she loves is not who she believes him to be.  Ms. Peakes gives a masterful portrayal of this complicated woman.

As the valiant Cassio, the gallant young man who supplants Iago in the military hierarchy, Thomas Keegan is much more than just the pretty face that sometimes happens with the character of Cassio.   He is charismatic and sexy, yet embodies well Cassio's weaknesses in wine and women that gives Iago the crack he needs to plot his destruction.  As the comic toady, Roderigo, Louis Butelli provides a welcome amount of comic ineptitude.   He lightens the mood at some of the darkest moments of Iago's plotting.

Iago.   Ian Merrill Peakes embodies with a passionate commitment the full range of Iago's bitter emotions as broadly  as possible without descending into a mustache-twirling cartoon.   We, the audience, no matter how seasoned with this play, delight in wondering just what Iago is going to do next.  His mania grows until it reaches the breaking point when with wild eyes and the barest crack of a smile Mr. Merrill Peakes sends shivers down your spine.

Director Richmond has decided to set his production at the time of the crusades, emphasizes the religious aspect of the characters, which is very much supported by the text.  Mr. Richmond has reassembled the design team that brought his acclaimed production of Henry VIII to this same stage last year.   The score by composer Andrew Cochrane compliments the moods of the play as they change with the winds of the storm that tosses our characters on the shore of Cyprus.  The costumes by William Ivey Long and the lush Arabian setting of billowing fabrics and lush carpeting and pillows designed by Tony Cisek evoke this era without overwhelming the tiny space of the Elizabethan Theater.  It is a beautiful and thoughtful time period for this classic tale.

William Shakespeare's Othello will be performed at the Folger Theatre through December 4, 2011.   Please arrive one hour early and take advantage of viewing the Folger Shakespeare Library's exhibition, Manifold Greatness celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible.   For tickets and other performance information please visit

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Book Club Play at Arena Stage

A group of friends meet monthly to discuss books.   It could be any small club in any town in America.   Yet, the group now appearing on Arena Stage's Kogod Cradle is quite eclectic.   We have the controlling Ana, the soft-spoken spinster, Jen, the good-natured husband who never reads the books, Rob, the highly strung co-founder of the club, Will (who deeply resents how Ana controls the club), and Lily, Ana's young co-worker with a more modern perspective on life.   Throw this barely cohesive group in front of a documentary filmmaker's lens and the cracks will show.   Throw a new member, Alex into the mix without the approval of Ana and you have farce.    This is the delight that is Karen Zacarias' newly revised The Book Club Play.

This literate comedy is a great deal of fun.   Audiences will delight in the archetypes presented on the stage.  The literary references sprinkled throughout will bring knowing smiles to those who familiar with the books.   The wonderful projections of the viewpoints of other book enthusiasts from a shark bite survivor to an octogenarian librarian who is sky diving steer the proceedings close to absurdity, yet provide warm laughter to cover the passages of time within the story.   All in all, The Book Club Play is a light confection, briskly paced by the sure direction of Molly Smith.

The audience is introduced to the members of the book club at the home of Ana and Rob.  A famous filmmaker has decided to make the group the subject of a documentary.  Therefore instead of meeting monthly the group will meet every two weeks.  Instead of rotating homes, they will always meet at Ana and Rob's house.   Tensions rise as Ana tries to control everything that will be seen on screen.   Characters learn about themselves, confront their secrets and follow their dreams during the course of the experiment.   It all leads to an ending in which transforms into a play within a film within a novel, a conclusion that is a bit contrite, yet still an amusing and satisfying evening of theater.

The small ensemble is well cast.   Kate Eastwood Norris is wound tighter than a spring as the strong type A, Ana.   Eric M. Messner is loveably dim as her put-upon and put-down-upon husband, Rob.  Tom Story peels the layers from his button-down Will, learning to embrace his true nature.  Rachael Holmes sparks as the more worldly than she seems Lily and Ashlie Atkinson is delightful as the mousy Jen who bravely embarks on her life's dreams as the play progresses.    Fred Arsenault is delicious as the wrench who throws the club into chaos, Alex.   Watching him impose the truths beneath the other characters' surface is the best part of the play.

While it is clear that this play, first produced in 2008 and heavily revised under the auspices of Arena Stage's Resident Playwright's program needs a bit more revision to bring out its true potential, The Book Club Play is well worth a trip to the inviting Kogod Cradle for a lighthearted evening of theater.  The ending seems a bit pat and pretentious, but the revision is definitely in the right direction.

The Book Club Play will be performed in the Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage through November 6, 2011.  For tickets and other performance information please visit

Tamburlaine the Great, Part 1 at the American Shakespeare Center

Techelles:   Tamburlaine, what are we going to do tomorrow night?
Tamburlaine: The same thing we do every night, Techelles.
Techelles:  What is that?
Tamburlaine: Try and take over the world.

That is the basic plot of Christopher Marlowe's sprawling tale of the shepherd outlaw who becomes master of Asia and Africa.  Lands are visited, kings and "soldans" are overthrown.   And a mighty warrior claims dominion over all he sees and wins the love of the fair Egyptian princess he has taken prisoner.

This epic story unfolds upon the Blackfriar's stage.  While one may wish that one had a scorecard to keep track of who is betraying whom, which land is being conquered or just where in the world is Tamburlaine the Great, the accomplished company of actors at the American Shakespeare Center under the capable direction of artistic director, Jim Warren, provide a fairly clear and relatively easy to follow path from the kingdom of Persia to the besieged city of Tamburlaine's father-in-law.

Keeping this wide-ranging story concise is the sure and steady direction of Jim Warren.   He is added by the beautiful Arabian-influenced costumes of Erin M. West which subtly aid the audience in telling the various conquered kings apart.   The fights choreographed by Colleen Kelly are brutal and effective.   And the acting is superb from the lowliest virgin to the poignant and distinctive performances of the many conquered lords, kings and soldans.

John Harrell is delicious as the betraying Cosroe, brother of the King of Persia, played with appropriate bewilderment by Benjamin Curns.  Patrick Midgley is devious as the turncoat Meander.   As the loyal outlaw followers that Tamburlaine makes into kings Miriam Donald and Chris Johnston are fierce charismatic warriors.  Blythe Coons is poignant and, when called upon regally haughty as Tamburlaine's prisoner love, Zenocrate.

Outstanding performances are given by Rene Thornton, Jr. and Allison Glenzer as the conquered Emperor Bajazeth and his empress, Zabina.   Of all his conquests, Bajazeth and Zabina have the most time upon the stage as they are humiliated by Tamburlaine, until, in despair they end their torment.   Ms. Glenzer, in particular is heartbreaking as she embodies Zabina's pathos and grief.   It is a mesmerizing performance.

James Keegan commands the Blackfriar's stage as Tamburlaine.   He is not the stereotyped evil fiend that sometimes can occur in lesser productions, particularly in those versions of the play that truncate both parts of Marlowe's plays into one evening.   Mr. Keegan is convincingly a warrior and a conqueror.  He is merciless to those he conquers yet loving to Zenocrate.   It is a towering acting achievement.

While not as popular a draw as the works of Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great is well worth an visit to the Blackfriar's Playhouse.

Tamburlaine the Great is being performed in repertory with Wiliam Shakespeare's The Tempest, Henry V and Hamlet and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest through November 26, 2011.  For tickets and other performance information please visit

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest at the American Shakespeare Center

Hilarious comedy.  Ready Wit.   Brisk pacing.   An actual set that needs to be changed during the intermission.   This last aspect is not what one would expect to find on the stage of the Blackfriars' Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia.    How would Oscar Wilde's famed comedy fit the American Shakespeare Center's style without the benefit of a proscenium and, more famously, performed "with the lights on?"  

The answer is triumphantly.   The hallmarks of attending a production by the American Shakespeare Center are intact, whether it be engaging the audience through pointed delivery of Oscar Wilde's jabs at society or the clever use of modern songs before the performance and during the two intermissions to provide modern commentary on the action of the play.   Combined with expert casting and the direction of Artistic Director Jim Warren who has coaxed the fervor and heightened emotions of the characters without taking the comedy too broad and this production of The Importance of Being Earnest is sheer delight.

In brief, this is the story of two bachelor friends, John"Jack" Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff.  Jack has been pretending that his name is Ernest, for the lady he loves Gwendolyn Fairfax has sworn she will only marry someone named Ernest.   Algernon, a bit of a rake, tells Jack about his habit of "Bunburying", which he employs whenever he needs to get out of a boring social engagement.   Jack meets Gwendolyn and her mother, Lady Bracknell, who is exacting about social niceties.   When Lady Bracknell discovers that Jack doesn't know his family background she opposes her daughter's engagement.   Meanwhile, Algernon discovers that Jack has a young ward, Cecily Cardew, living in the country.  He travels to visit her, discovering that she, too, fancies that she is in love with Jack's imagined brother, Ernest.   Algernon masquerades as Ernest.    Everyone travels to Jack's country home where much confusion reigns.   Add in to the mix, Cecily's governess, the romantic Miss Prism and the hapless country rector, Reverend Chasuble and a couple of droll servants and much confusion reigns until everything reaches a mad cap conclusion.

One realizes immediately that this is no musty, reverent production that shies away from the natural comedy that Oscar Wilde wrote so well.    Emotions are worn openly on the beautiful costumes by Jenny McNee. Who knew that the name Ernest could be so erotic?   The three acts of the play speed merrily along under the brisk direction of Jim Warren.   Despite the unified locations, the Blackfriar's tradition of audience interaction is well conceived.   Whether it is  a joke about marriage delivered to a couple in the front row of the theater or using some audience members as part of the scenery this is a wonderfully fun two hours and 20 minutes traffic upon the stage.

As the droll servants, the love-pining Lane and the put-upon Merriman, Gregory Jon Phelps and Patrick Midgley are a hoot.   John Basiulus is fun as the buttoned-up yet bursting with chaste passion Reverend Chasuble.  Allison Glenzer is hilarious as the trying to be stern governess, Miss Prism who struggles to control a romantic streak.  As the two ladies, Gwendolyn and Cecily, Blythe Coons and Miriam Donald complement each other.  Ms. Coon's Gwendolyn is polished with a naughty streak (the name Ernest is erotic thanks to her performance) and Ms. Donald's Cecily is flighty and charming.

As the bachelor friends who create this delightful mess, Rene Thornton, Jr. as Jack is a delectable leading man with a ready wit.  Benjamin Curns as Algernon is devilish, yet totally engaging.  Mr. Curns rapport with the audience is such that they eventually play into Algernon's schemes to fun effect.

As the stern Lady Bracknell, John Harrell is quite the aristocratic lady.   This role has a long history of being played upon the stage, most recently by Brian Bedford on Broadway.   This is no drag performance.  Mr. Harrell is quite convincing as the representative of high society.  His crisp delivery of Lady Bracknell's biting commentary coupled with perfect poise embodies refinement.

The Importance of Being Ernest is well worth a trip to the heart of the Shenandoah Valley in Staunton, Virginia.

The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde is being performed in repertory with William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Hamlet and Henry V and Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great through November 25, 2011.   For tickets and other performance information, please visit

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Production at the Kennedy Center

Les Miserables is probably the most critically acclaimed musical of the large multi-million dollar productions that were the hallmark of musical theater in the 1980's.   Known for its large cast, complicated set on a then state-of-the-art computerized turntable, and beautiful symphonic score (with electronic flourishes), Les Miserables enjoyed a long run on Broadway that saw it become the third longest running show in Broadway history. Les Miserables continues its original run in London where it opened in 1985.  It has had numerous national tours, international productions, and was famously filmed in concert form for its 25th anniversary at London's O2 Arena.  

Given the immense scale of the original production, Les Miserables has been ripe for re-interpretation.   An acclaimed scaled-down production was performed to critical acclaim at Arlington, Virginia's Signature Theater in 2008.    Yet, for a 25th anniversary National Tour, it seems wise to provide a larger sense of scale and scope, yet find ways to streamline the behemoth production values of the original design of the show.    For that, Cameron Mackintosh Productions turned to directors Laurence Connor and James Powell, who staged this current production at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey.    Trimming about 40 minutes from the running time and substantially redesigning the sets and lighting, this Les Miserables is a taut production, that does not feel as though anything substantial to the core of the original script has been lost.  Most of what has been cut are superfluous and repetitive portions of the sung-through dialogue.  The result is a brisk pace that does not feel too rushed and a satisfying emotional punch that is worthy of those who have fond memories of the original production.

The new set design by Matt Kinley which is inspired by the paintings of the novel's author, Victor Hugo gives a gritty yet beautiful sense of time and place.   When coupled by the lighting design of Paule Constable this becomes a Les Miserables that emphasizes the living conditions of the poor and working class citizens of France.    Andreane Neofitou's costumes, while complimentary of the original designs due to their need to be period accurate, have some nuances that provide a fresh perspective on the characters.   The score, with new orchestrations by Chris Jahnke and additional orchestrations by Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker has been reduced from the original 22 musicians to 15, yet under the direction of Robert Bilig they still provide the scope that is needed for this epic tale.

The staging by the directors, Mr. Connor and Mr. Powell is overall very effective.   The use of the projections adds in giving some depth to certain scenes such as the escape through the Paris sewers.   Yet you can tell that the production was designed on a stage with less depth than the Kennedy Center Opera House.   Some of the action feels unnaturally forced forward and there is a bit too much of having the ensemble line up at the front of the stage and dramatically confront the audience.   Once is effective, twice is okay, three or more is boring.

The only other criticism is one of sound levels.  As are all musical productions these days, the actors are miked.  The levels of the sound mix are at times set too high, making it too loud for certain moments in the show.   Also, there are times when lyrics are muddied by poor diction.   And sadly, during one song, the confrontation between Valjean and Javert after Fantine's death, their counterpoint singing is a shouting match, instead of the give and take that allows the audience to understand both mens' arguments.

The casting of the production is top notch.  Not a single role is poorly performed.   Chasten Harmon is gritty and sympathetic as Eponine.   Particularly her death, in the beautiful A Little Fall of Rain gains additional poignancy as it is not sung as a pretty duet, but clearly with the pain and agony of someone dying of gunshot wounds.    Jeremy Hays has the right amount of magnetism as Enjolras, the leader of the students.   Betsy Morgan is heartbreaking as the doomed Fantine.   Richard Vida and Shawna M. Hamic are comic in a macabre way as the Thenardiers.   Jenny Latimer has a beautiful soprano voice and is charmingly earnest as the innocent Cosette desperately in love with young Marius.

As Marius, Justin Scott Brown is a revelation.  His Marius has more emotional depth that the usual idealized student and love interest.   Mr. Brown shows a range showing genuine fervor for his friends' beliefs, despair over the events at the doomed barricade and genuine love for  his  beautiful Cosette.

Andrew Varela is menacing as Javert, the policeman who fervently believes that good and evil are black and white and that one can never change.  Mr. Varela uses his strong baritone during his singing of Stars to provide the character's context for the audience and his devastation during his Soliloquy show emotional complexity   It is a testament to the original authors and to Mr. Varela that what could be the  one-note villain of the show is a complex and conflicted man.

J. Mark McVey joins a long line of gentlemen to tackle the difficult role of Jean Valjean.   It requires a herculean effort to sing this part night after night.   Mr. McVey Valjean is strength and pathos.   Particularly in Bring Him Home he gives a soaring performance that takes the audience on Valjean's journey from paroled prisoner to redeemed sinner.  

The 25th Anniversary Production of Les Miserables will be performed at the Kennedy Center Opera House through October 30, 2011.   For tickets and other performance information please visit   For additional information on future performances of this national tour please visit

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Trouble In Mind at Arena Stage

In the 1950's a brilliant young playwright stirred up the theatrical world by creating plays that focused on the prejudices facing the African American community during the smoldering development of the civil rights movement.   Her name?  Not Lorraine Hansberry, who would have the distinction of being the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway.   No, this pioneer of the theater is Alice Childress, whose works should be equally well known.    We should be grateful to actress E. Faye Butler and director Irene Lewis for their efforts since 2007 to revive Ms. Childress' 1955 play Trouble in Mind.

Trouble in Mind takes place in the rehearsal hall of a Broadway theater.   Wiletta Mayer (E. Faye Butler) a well known African American actress has bee tapped for a leading role in a drama about the struggle for African Americans to vote.  The cast is integrated and contains two other veteran actors of color, Millie Davis (Starla Benford) and Sheldon Forrester (Thomas Jefferson Byrd). Milly and Wiletta long to break out of the stereotype of playing maids and "mammy" roles.  Sheldon is a bit more accepting of his life's career.   A young white actress, Judy Sears (Gretchen Hall) and a young African American actor, John Nevins (Brandon J. Dirden) are simply thrilled to have a professional acting job.  A white actor with t.v. credits, Bill O'Wray (Daren Kelly) completes the acting ensemble.  The actors are steered in this production by the supposedly enlightened white director, Marty Lodge (Al Manners).   Yet, despite the dreams of starring in a Broadway play with an important subject matter, the company discovers that the play is deeply flawed and contains glaring offensive stereotypes.   They also discover that no matter the director's attempts to be fair and open-minded, the prejudices that he has towards his actors of color will surface.   Will principles be sacrificed for a Broadway credit?  Can the conflicts between the characters ever truly be resolved?

This is a wonderfully complex play that feels as if it were written today, not in 1955.   It contains amazing characters and forces the audience to see the biting truths that lie underneath the many comedic moments in the play.    That the play does not have a patently satisfactory ending reflects the truth that life does not have easily resolved endings.   In fact, the reason that the play never appeared on Broadway in the 1950's stems from Ms. Childress' conflicts with the producers who asked her to re-write the play, at one point including a third act, in the hopes of providing that elusive happy ending.  

What is fresh and modern about this play are the dynamics that play out between the characters.   Wiletta Mayer is established as a well-known actress, yet the director dismisses her objections to certain elements of the play, yet he readily accepts the criticism given by his well-known white leading man.  Millie and Sheldon are more accepting of the stereotyping of the African American characters in the play, acknowledging that they may be tired of playing certain types, but appear accepting of the status quo.   The director, Al Manners, who claims to be enlightened, subtly shows his prejudices, until in the heat of the moment he is forced to admit them.   Wiletta is a cry in the wilderness for calling out the absurdities of what she is being forced to perform and the audience is clearly on her side in wishing that she will triumph.  Yet, as in real life, the denouement is bittersweet and unsatisfactory.

The entire acting company gives outstanding performances.  Brandon J. Dirden gives a fresh performance as the naive young actor being schooled in the ways of the world for African American actors.  Gretchen Hall is equally charming as the equally naive Judy Sears who tries to break down the barriers between herself and the African American actors.   Daren Kelly's Bill O'Wray, while given less time to develop has the right feel for his t.v. star personality.   Garrett Neergaard has great comic timing as Eddie Fenton, the director's put-upon assistant.

As the stage door man Henry, Laurence O'Dwyer brings a warmth to the only character in the play that succeeds in treating everyone equally.   Starla Benford provides support and a foil to Wiletta as Millie Davis.    As the more accepting Sheldon Forrester,  Thomas Jefferson Byrd's lilting qualities provide a charm.  Yet, when Sheldon relates a dark story from his childhood that same soothing lilt draws in the audience.  He is mesmerizing.

As the director Al Manners, Marty Lodge is a forceful presence whether trying to be the enlightened liberal director or delivering the barbs that clearly prove Al is not as unprejudiced as he claims to be.   Al Manners has a theatrical past that colors his behavior and Mr. Lodge navigates this character well while finding the right times to provide sympathy for what is the antagonist of the piece.

E. Faye Butler left the acclaimed revival of Oklahoma! to return to the role of Wiletta Mayer.  She has played the role off and on since 2007.   Ms. Butler is a force on the stage, whether Wiletta is upholding the facade that she is a leading lady of the stage, or fighting to correct the glaring errors in the script by refusing to give in to the stereotypes. Ms. Butler has a full satisfying range of emotions as she desperately articulates Wiletta's anguish and desire to break away from and find a human truth in the script she is not being allowed to help shape.    It is a triumphant performance.

Alice Childress had a long career.  While she is best known for her book from the 1970's A Hero Ain't Nothing But A Sandwich and the film made from it, she deserves a deeper acknowledgement of her long body of work.  May this and subsequent productions of Trouble In Mind give publicity to a pioneer of the theater whose works need a wider audience.

Trouble In Mind will be performed at Arena Stage's Mead Center for American Theater in the Kreeger Theater through October 23, 2011.   For tickets and other performance information please visit

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Disney's Newsies: The Musical at Paper Mill Playhouse

In 1992, Walt Disney Pictures released Newsies, a live-action musical film about the newsboys strike of 1899.  It featured a strong score with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman.   The film cost $15 million dollars and flopped, only grossing a little under $3 million.  However, the film gained fans with regular play on the Disney Channel and through home video.   As one of the few films with boys as leads instead of a princess it has grown into a cult classic.  This is despite the fact that the film received a lot of negative reviews and was nominated for several Razzie awards, winning the worst song award for High Times, Hard Times.

Flash forward to 2011, where Paper Mill Playhouse located in Millburn, New Jersey has mounted the world premiere production of Disney's Newsies: The Musical.  The team of Mr. Menkin and Mr. Feldman have expanded their score, retaining most of the popular anthems and discarding a few of the clunkers (so long High Times, Hard Times).  Acclaimed playwright, Harvey Fierstein has written the book, streamlining the original screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White.  The result is a high energy stage production perfect for the entire family.  While the script could use a few revisions here and there it is a wonderful premiere for a musical that is sure to have many more productions to come.

Disney's Newsies: The Musical takes place in 1899 New York City.  The newsies are the boys who sell the "papes."  Many live on the streets, others work long hours to help their struggling families.  The leader of the newsies is Jack Kelly, a talented artist who dreams of going west for a better life.  His fellow newsies include Crutchie, struggling with a disability, and two new kids, brothers Davey and Les, whose father was fired after being injured in a factory job. When Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the World desides to raise the price the newsboys must pay for the papers they sell, he convinces William Randolph Hearst and the other publishers to follow suit.  The boys decide to form a union and strike until the price is cut and the publishers agree to buy back any papers the boys can't sell.   Jack meets girl reporter  Katherine Plumber, who dreams of a promotion from writing the society page to the news beat.  Together the newsies and Katherine take on the world in a fight ultimately for the benefit of all of the oppressed child workers of the city. 

The film is deeply beloved by a lot of people who may not like the changes made to some of the characters and to parts of the story.  However, Mr. Fierstein has reshaped the script so that the focus remains on Jack and the newsies strike.  Therefore some elements have been eliminated and other plot points and characters reimagined.  For example, Katherine Plummer, a fictionalized Nellie Bly-type reporter, replaces Denton, the seasoned newsman of the film.  Her character also provides a more satisfying love interest for Jack than the girl in the film.

There are a few moments in the script that need a bit of polishing.  The adult female characters are not well fleshed out.  Medda the vaudeville owner is here, but she has as little relevance to the overall story as she did in the film   Joseph Pulitzer is written as a stronger villain, but he's a bit over the top in his villainy. That is not to say that John Dossett does not give a good performance.  He does, especially with his new song, The News is Getting Better.  It would help if he had a bit of nuance added to his character, particularly with an act two revelation.  That revelation, involving Katherine's background, seems to come out of nowhere and is a bit jarring.  However, later in act two when two young men assist the newsies with printing their own paper and make an amusing revelation of their own then Katherine's revelation makes sense.  Perhaps a few additional hints before the big reveal would make this plot point less jarring.

The other major script change is diminishing the threat of the boy's jail, The Refuge.  Our hero, Jack is still a fugitive from this place and one of the main characters, Crutchie, is arrested and taken there, but since we don't see The Refuge and its cruelty, the threat of it is lessened and the role of Warden Snyder and his comeuppance seems tacked on and doesn't bring the satisfaction that it did in the film.

As for the overall production itself, Disney's Newsies: The Musical is a rousing, high energy show filled with enthusiastic performances and wonderful production values.   The multi-level set, designed by Tobin Ost, reflects the industrial setting, at once liberating in its versatility and oppressive as it can restrict the freedom of the newsboys.  Sven Ortel's projections give context to the story, giving a sense of time and place.  Jess Goldstein's costumes and Charles LaPointe's hair and wig design evoke the turn of the 20th century while providing ease of movement for the vigorous dancing. 

Choreographer Christopher Gattelli has created dances that combine breathtaking athleticism and pure artistry.   In particular the show-stopping tap-tastic King of New York, which opens act two is a highlight.  But, it is the inventive steps of the show's best known anthem, Seize the Day that is the choreographer's triumph.   From the emotional stomps that evoke the newsies angry decision to strike to the newsprint soft shoe to the heart stopping leaps and flips, this is bravura dancing at its best.

Director Jeff Calhoun guides well his young cast.  Ben Fankhauser has a clear strong voice in Seize The Day and grows throughout the performance as the bookish young man who helps shape the strike. His younger brother, Les, played at evening performances by Vincent Agnello, matinees by RJ Fattori, is both feisty and adorable.  Andrew Keenan-Bolger brings to the role of Crutchie a real emotional core,  his crippled boy who dreams of a better life captures the audience's heart and when the character disappears for most of act two following his arrest he is greatly missed.

Kara Lindsay as Katherine is a strong, confident young woman ready to help the newsies take on the establishment.  Her new song, the pattering Watch What Happens is the best of the new songs added to the score.  Ms. Lindsay has a pleasing voice and a spunky attitude that is perfect for her girl reporter.

And then there's our hero, Jack Kelly himself.  Jeremy Jordan is a star in the making.  He is a leading man with an amazing voice who brings alternating layers of confidence and vulnerability.   Mr. Jordan's charisma shines forth every time he is on the stage.  Whether singing of Jack's dream life in Santa Fe or leading the newsies in almost every ensemble piece, Mr. Jordan gives a commanding performance.  Broadway is in for a treat when Mr. Jordan next appears in the new musical Bonnie and Clyde next year.

Disney's Newsies: The Musical is a well conceived first production.  The show is sure to do well once the the amateur and high school rights become available.  Yet, with a little revision Newsies: The Musical has a chance to be a great show.   One hopes that Disney Theatrical Productions considers giving it more chances on the professional level.   This is a show that deserves to find itself on the Great White Way.

Disney's Newsies: The Musical will be performed at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey through October 16, 2011.  For tickets and other performance information, please visit

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hamlet at the Maryland Renaissance Festival

Revel Grove is an English village set amidst 25 acres of beautiful woods.   As you wander about the village you might encounter a madrigal choir serenading you with a tune written by King Henry VIII.   Above you an acrobat contorts perilously from silks and rings to the applause from the audience below.   A crowd claps and sings along to rousing piratical tunes at the White Hart Tavern.  Johnny Fox demonstrates the art of sword swallowing at the Royal Stage.   And from a replica of an outdoor Elizabethan theater comes these familiar lines, “Speake the Speech, I pray you, as I pronounc’d it to you trippingly on the Tongue: But if you mouth it, as many of your Players do, I had live the Town-Cryer spoke my lines: . .”

Welcome to the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Located in Crownsville, Maryland just outside the state capitol of Annapolis, the Maryland Renaissance Festival is one of the most acclaimed and best attended renaissance festivals in the United States.  The entertainment choices range from bawdy tavern music to children’s theater, high wire balancing to full-contact jousting.  Quality professional theater is also an important part of the experience.   While the theatrical offerings range from the aforementioned children’s theater to original scripts highlighting the storyline for the royal court of King Henry VIII, perhaps the most unique experience one can attend is a performance of a classical play.  For decades, the professional acting company, under the auspices of Artistic Director, Carolyn Spedden, has performed plays by Shakespeare, Moliere, Garrick and Rostand. While these works are adapted for time constraints, usually shortened to ninety minutes or less, the caliber of the acting and the direction is on par with that in the nearby metropolis’ of Baltimore and Washington DC.

For the 35th anniversary of the Maryland Renaissance Festival, the professional acting company is presenting William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, under the direction of John Sadowsky and starring Jack Powers. Why Hamlet?  “Why not Hamlet?” declares director John Sadowsky. “ We haven’t done it before.  It is one of the most popular plays in the canon.  It is such a beautifully constructed story, and one of my favorites.”

However, in order to produce Hamlet the play had to be reduced to two 50-minute acts. “John Sadowsky explained the challenge in cutting Hamlet. “Trimming the longest play to fit in time less than his  (Shakespeare’s) shortest was indeed a challenge.  First and foremost, I wanted to tell the basic story of Hamlet’s conflicts and revenge.  Some decisions were quite straightforward – we will stick to what is going on in Denmark.   And so much of the recapitulations of the story throughout the play were removed.  On the other hand, I didn’t want to touch the well-known soliloquies or famous lines any more than was absolutely essential. “  

Jack Powers, who has a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Muhlenberg College and numerous classical and musical theater credits to his resume welcomed the challenge of playing Shakespeare’s most famous character.  When asked if anything had been cut from the script that he wished could be restored, Mr. Powers responded, “Not really.  Most of the cuts were made around the central revenge plot, so much of the introspection and philosophy are missing.  I think these elements are certainly iconic of the play, but ultimately they do not service the main action – they are intellectual side plots that, while certainly generating academic discussion, are not essential, in my opinion, for the characters.”   

 The trimming of the play has had another benefit for the characters of Gertrude and Ophelia.  “With so much of the men’s talking gone, we can see more clearly the development and growth of Gertrude and Ophelia as real human beings,” says John Sadowsky.   The relationships among the main characters also became clearer particularly with the decision to cast a young Hamlet.  “Seeing Jack’s audition caused me to modify my original thoughts about Hamlet.  I was going to go with the traditional 30-something, who just prefers to stay in and around his college until called back to Elsinore to assume the throne.  But I saw something special in Jack’s audition and decided to go with the 20-year-old Hamlet, a real college student who is genuinely pissed off at not succeeding his father and who could be goaded into action by the ghost of his father (real or imagined).  “He isn’t any more indecisive than any other 20-something and we can clearly see the vengeance plot take hold.  And Jack has plenty of youthful exuberance, charm, intelligence, and playfulness that really rounds out Hamlet and makes him a joy to watch.  Our Hamlet is sympathetic and not the indecisive whiny complainer that sometimes comes across.”

Another aspect of the play that benefited from the decision to cast a 20-something Hamlet came in the casting of Claudius and Gertrude.  John Sadowsky explains,  “I wanted a somewhat younger Claudius and Gertrude with which the audience could well understand their love story.  Both had to be complex – Claudius is not pure evil and Gertrude is not simply a spoil of Claudius’ plot.  Her love and concern for her son and her husband had to be real.  John Stange and Kelly Gray both showed the human side in their audition.” 

The reduction of the story to fit a particular time “slot” on the Globe Theater stage led to challenges in rehearsal.  John Sadowsky, who also directed the 2010 production of Don Quixote, Book II by Baltimore playwright Mike Field, drew a comparison between the two productions.  “The biggest challenge is that I didn’t have the playwright to work with this time.  In Don Quixote, we approached the rehearsal as a developmental process; the script was a work in progress and was subject to change, depending on how scenes work and what needed adjusting once we saw how it all looked in performance.  Although Hamlet is a well established and complete play, our edited version in many ways was like a developmental work and actors could find new cuts (and re-additions) at just about every rehearsal until we had it working the way I wanted.  I have directed established plays before without the time constraint (a very real one as all shows have strict schedule limits at the Renaissance Festival) so I found it both challenging and lots of fun to approach Shakespeare as if it were a new play under development.”

Performing in an outdoor venue has built-in challenges such as distracting noises and weather conditions.   However, the actors performing  in Hamlet must also compete with the sights and sounds of the entire Renaissance Festival.   The Royal Stage is right next door and the popular White Hart Tavern up the road.  Vendors hawk beef jerky and pretzels near the back of the audience.   The crowds pass through on their way to other shows.   “The performance space is both a blessing and a curse, “ says Jack Powers.  “The former, in that it keeps you from agonizing too much over subtle, minute character choices, since none of your choices will matter if you cannot project your voice and personality into the noisy throng at the Globe.  The latter, because it challenges you much more so than a conventional theatrical performance to be very mindful of how you use your voice and body to express – you have to be loud and expressive enough to command attention, yet employ enough physical economy so as to preserve your voice and body through the entire performance as well as the rest of the festival day, since almost all the Hamlet actors also have street characters.”

The Maryland Renaissance Festival’s professional actors not only have to appear in stage shows, the majority of them also appear as members of King Henry VIII’s royal court or as villagers of Revel Grove.   This adds to the vocal and physical stamina required by the actors as the performance day lasts from 10 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and Labor Day Monday from late August to late October.

By far the most challenging aspect of the performance of the Maryland Renaissance Festival’s production of Hamlet comes with its hour-long intermission.   The seats at the Globe Theater stage are wooden benches and the lengthy intermission gives theater devotees a chance to stretch their legs, use the privy, and grab an ale before returning for act two.    As an actor, Jack Powers discussed his challenge in having an hour-long break in his performance.  “The fun part will be the hour-long intermission between the two acts – too short to transition back to my street character, but too long for a lunch break.  I think Hamlet will be taking a gander through Revel Grove.”   Mr. Powers has the advantage that the member of the village he plays is a Sheriff’s Deputy, part of, as he calls it, “a jovial group of swashbucklers.” As he has a familiarity with that character he finds transitioning between the swashbuckler and the vengeful Prince of Denmark fairly easy to accomplish.

With the challenges of performing classical theater in a Renaissance Festival setting comes certain realities that are not necessarily present in more traditional theater.  There is the very real possibility that an audience member might choose to view Act One on one performance day and Act Two on another performance day.   For the benefit of audience members who have missed Act One a brief recap is presented before Act Two commences.   For those audience members who decide to continue in their seats during intermission,  the entertainment schedule at the Globe Theater provides even more Hamlet, this time on the comedic side as at 2:00 p.m. Happenstance Theater presents Something Rotten, “a wordless romp through the highlights of Hamlet,” starring Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell, who also portray the Player King and Queen in Hamlet.  The very popular Shakespeare’s Skum entertains the crowd at 2:30 p.m. with their hilarious Leave It To Hamlet.  It is possible to immerse oneself in all things Hamlet for three hours if one so chooses.   Yet, it is the opportunity to see quality Shakespeare, performed by a professional company of actors under the auspices of an acclaimed director that makes this production of Hamlet a triumphant achievement for the 35th anniversary of the Maryland Renaissance Festival.

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, directed by John Sadowsky and starring Jack Powers as Hamlet will be performed at the Maryland Renaissance Festival’s Globe Theatre Stage at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through October 23, 2011.  For tickets to the Maryland Renaissance Festival and other performance information please visit